Deciding what to study, deciding who we are

From the files of OJ Sanchez, a former decision professional at ExxonMobil, consultant with Decision Strategies, Inc., member of the Society of Decision Professionals, and now director of Strategy Development at Rosnik Solutions, LLC.


My daughter was finishing medical school after graduating from West Point and needed to decide on the specialty she was going to apply for.

When she asked me to help her with that decision, we started by listing what she really valued and wanted from her new role. Among her key objectives were: helping people, lots of patient contact, reasonable hours, personally fulfilling, and professionally challenging.

From that list, we moved on to identify all the options available to her, including: surgeon, radiologist, pediatrician, obstetrician.

We then assessed the pros and cons against each of her objectives. In the end she decided on pediatrician, as that career matched up most soundly against what she valued.

But then, after the first year, she called home: “Dad, I did not want this much patient contact—especially with mothers!”

She reassessed her options, against her reassessed values, and moved to become a pathologist. That way, she would deal mainly and directly with doctors, and have no patient contact.

The learning here is to ensure that what you list as being important in your decision really is important to you. Sometimes what may seem like a good answer—or even a natural or popular one—is not what we really value.

After completing her pathology training, OJ’s daughter was assigned to Fort Hood, as a Captain in the Army. She is now a Director of Services at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

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